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The University of Southampton

Researchers discover new gene that causes early diabetes

Published: 16 July 2008

Patients with a rare developmental disorder which causes early diabetes are helping researchers to discover genes that are of fundamental importance for the normal development of the unborn baby.

Scientists at the University of Southampton have identified a gene that is involved in maintaining the difference between the maternal and paternal copy of a special group of genes called imprinted genes.

Imprinted genes are genes whose expression is determined by the parent they are inherited from. In imprinting, one of the two copies of a gene inherited from each parent is switched off by molecular instructions coming from either the mother or the father. A child will therefore inherit only one working copy of that gene. Imprinted genes are of particular importance in fetal growth and neurodevelopment.

The new gene is called ZFP57 and seems to be crucial in controlling the way the cell maintains the 'on-off' switch for imprinted genes.

In 1995 the Southampton researchers were the first to show that neonatal diabetes is due to abnormal control of an imprinted gene and now they have found a reason why control can go wrong.

Lead author of the study, Professor Karen Temple of the University of Southampton's School of Medicine, explains: "When ZFP57 is disrupted, it can have serious effects on the growth and development of the unborn baby and cause diabetes in early life, as well as other problems including heart disease in some children. It is a new gene for childhood diabetes which can recur in families. The gene is likely to play a controlling role in birth weight.

"This work provides an important step forward in our quest to understand the genetic causes of neonatal diabetes and helps us to understand more about how imprinted genes are controlled."

The research is published online in Nature Genetics and was funded by Diabetes UK.

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Notes for editors

  • The University of Southampton is a leading UK teaching and research institution with a global reputation for leading-edge research and scholarship.

    This is one of the country's top institutions for engineering, computer science and medicine, and home to a range of world-leading research centres, including the National Oceanography Centre, Southampton, the Institute of Sound and Vibration Research, the Optoelectronics Research Centre, the Centre for the Developmental Origins of Health and Disease, and the Mountbatten Centre for International Studies.

    We combine academic excellence with an innovative and entrepreneurial approach to research, supporting a culture that engages and challenges students and staff in their pursuit of learning.

    As one of the UK's leading research universities, we offer first-rate opportunities and facilities for study and research across a wide range of subjects in humanities, health, science and engineering.
    We have over 22,000 students, around 5000 staff, and an annual turnover in the region of £350 million.

  • As a global education facility with 5* internationally-rated research divisions, the School of Medicine is a thriving and ambitious, multi-disciplinary School with an outstanding reputation for combined expertise in research and teaching. We have a highly focused and managed research strategy, with a structure based on a number of large interdisciplinary Research Divisions. Our six research divisions focus on areas of significant research strengths in Southampton. These are: Cancer Sciences; Clinical Neurosciences; Developmental Origins of Health and Disease; Infection, Inflammation and Repair; Human Genetics, and Community Clinical Sciences.

    Translational research in the School of Medicine is based on taking our own discoveries and applying them to clinical situations to the benefit of patients. There are two major initiatives in translational research: the development of the Southampton Clinical Research Institute in liaison with the NHS acute trust and the University development of an Institute for Life Sciences

    The School also works closely with Southampton University Hospitals Trust, a partnership that has recently won two new biomedical research units funded by the government's National Institute for Health to undertake translational clinical research in the priority areas of respiratory disease

  • For further information
    Professor Karen Temple, School of Medicine, University of Southampton,
    Tel. 023 8079 6170, email:
    Sue Wilson, Communications, University of Southampton,
    Tel. 023 8059 5457, email:

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